Review: Yauatcha, Dim Sum Teahouse, Soho

Some of the dumplings we sampled...

Some of the dumplings we sampled…

A contemporary dim sum teahouse. That’s how Yauatcha describes itself on its website and how could that fail to sound like a really fun idea? Lots of small dishes to graze upon, laid back chatter in between comforting sips of tea. It’s perfect for catching up with friends or a casual date. Add a Michelin star to its credentials, however, and my former student self begins to get nervous. Visions of minuscule morsels and a monstrous bill begin to rise in front of my eyes.

That’s why I couldn’t quite believe it when I saw an eight-dish tasting menu for two for the very specific amount of £28.88. It may only be available Mondays to Thursday between 2 and 6pm, but £14.44 a head just didn’t seem credible.

A Michelin-star restaurant that is actually affordable?! Yauatcha is a creation from Alan Yau, who previously developed the Wagamama and Busaba Eathai restaurant chains, so perhaps affordability shouldn’t be that unexpected. Except from that fact that he also created the high class Hakkasan, also with Michelin star and where prices are a casual £58 for a Sunday dim sum menu.

The catch had to be in the portions. The dim sum had to be so small that they might be accidentally inhaled whilst sneezing. One sharp intake of breath and the food would vanish forever, never once grazing the tongue.

These, however, proved to be wild fantasies. I left Yauatcha comfortably full and desperate to throw my money at them again: the food, in case you haven’t guessed, was beyond excellent.

Quite frankly, I have no idea why Yauatcha has escaped my radar, and if it’s not been on your map either, sound the alarms, get out your GPS and cancel your weekend plans – dining here should be an imperative for any foodie.

Sweet potato mushroom mei-si roll and baked venison puff

Sweet potato mushroom mei-si roll and baked venison puff

Behind a front of dark blue glass lies a sleek, modern interior with dark wood-topped tables, padded chairs and cakes. That’s right – beautiful, colourful and extravagant cakes lining a bar near the front window. The temptation is so blatant that it should be illegal.

We settled in, placed our orders and awaited the goods, fortunately with the desserts out of our line of sight. They were, however, soon forgotten as a myriad of delights decorated our table.

Sticky rice in lotus leaf

Sticky rice in lotus leaf

The first dish to come was sticky rice with chicken and shrimp wrapped in a lotus leaf. Simple though this was, it was one of the highlights of the meal. It was beautifully flavoured that I would have happily been served it as an entire meal and eaten a giant bowlful without getting bored. It was so delicious that I found myself trying to save some until last.

We were then presented with a variety of dumplings which banished unfortunate past memories of stodginess and really highlighted the subtlety that is so often lost in Chinese cuisine.

Prawn shui mai and Shanghai siew long bun

Prawn shui mai and Shanghai siew long buns

Each dish was a delight and devoured with pleasure, and perhaps a little sorrow: they tasted so good that they inspired extreme greed and cravings for more.

Prawn and beancurd cheung fun

Prawn and beancurd cheung fun

Particularly worth noting was the venison puff that carefully balanced sweetness against the rich flavour of the meat. The prawn and beancurd cheung fun (steamed rice roll), whilst not the most aesthetic piece to Western eyes – indeed it is sometimes called ‘pig intestine’ due to its appearance – was firm but light, and again disappeared all too quickly.

Even though we were embarking on an extraordinary tasting journey, we were aware of the high quality service we received: our waitress had exactly the right approach – that perfect balance between professionalism, genuine interest and pride in what was being served. And, of course, why wouldn’t the waiting staff be proud? They’re serving excellent food. Yauatcha is in a class of its own. 

Yauatcha 5/5 – Stop press. I think this is my first 5/5 review ever. I cannot praise Yauatcha enough.

Food 5/5 – Go try it for yourself. Words fail me.
Value 4/5 – Perhaps a little expensive for dim sum but you can’t fault the quality.
Atmosphere 4/5 – A laid back vibe, which is good because we were squeezed quite close to the other tables.
Service 5/5 – Completely on the ball.

Where: 15-17 Broadwick Street, Soho, London, W1F 0DL

Website: 
http://www.yauatcha.com/soho/

Review: Royal China, Baker Street

Sautéed Beef with Ginger and Spring Onion

Sautéed Beef with Ginger and Spring Onion

Original article published in The Beaver.

There are few things that one can rely on in life, but the ubiquity of Chinese restaurants and takeaways in the UK is one of them. The Brits have long had a love affair with Chinese cuisine and the choices for dining in London are diverse. For those who will happily dive into florescent sweet-and-sour chicken from any corner shop, then this overwhelming choice is not a problem but a paradise. Yet for the more discerning diner, the variety can seem impossible to navigate.

Please do not panic. To avoid these greasy pitfalls, begin your gastronomic journey at Royal China.

We visited Baker Street, the largest restaurant in the Royal China group that owns six restaurants across London. The inside is nothing spectacular – the usual circular tables are crammed into a large room with the usual ostentatious décor, adding splashes of red and gold. There’s not much to distinguish it from any run-of-the-mill Chinese. That is until you see the menu.

A devoted foodie will be pleased to note two things. Firstly, there’s a good choice but not too much choice: sauces vary depending on the meat or fish and there is no indiscriminate splattering of black bean sauce across any source of protein, which strongly suggests some thought has gone into the menu. Secondly, the dishes are priced above those formerly-mentioned restaurants of dubious integrity (though, very fortunately, they are not beyond the means of students).

Baked Pork Chop with Mandarin Sauce

Baked Pork Chop with Mandarin Sauce

For starters, we sampled the Baked Pork Chop with Mandarin Sauce (£7.80), which was easily large enough to be eaten as a main. The sauce was thick and sweet as expected, but never became cloying. Inevitably, the dish disappeared rapidly and with great satisfaction.

Steamed Chicken with Mushroom and Chinese Sausag

Steamed Chicken with Mushroom and Chinese Sausag

For mains, my co-diner ordered the Steamed Chicken (half) with Mushroom and Chinese Sausage (£12.80). This was a misleading description that conjured a vision of half a bird with tender meat ready to be pulled off the bones. Instead chunks of chicken arrived on a large leaf. Disappointment aside, the sauce itself was light and tangy – a refreshing contrast to our starter – but it didn’t compliment the Chinese sausage. Nevertheless, the flavours grew over time and it was enjoyable.

autéed Pak Choi with Garlic

autéed Pak Choi with Garlic

We also ordered a side of Sautéed Pak Choi with Garlic (£8.80). Pak choi can be incredibly delicious if cooked so as to balance their bitterness with the right amount of saltiness or sweetness. Sadly these were underwhelming and forgettable, and rather overpriced. Our meal was also let down by the Egg Fried Rice (£3.20), which was unremarkable, but provided an adequate base for our dishes.

Braised Beef with Chillies

Braised Beef with Chillies

It was my main course that truly was the pièce de résistance: Braised Beef with Chillies from the Chef’s Specials menu, served bubbling in a pot above a flame. At around £16, this dish was not cheap but it was worth every last meaty mouthful. The beef was fatty but tender and succulent, and expertly braised in a salty, moreish sauce. The spices were perfect – the chillies provided a slow-burning warmth and the aniseed mildly provoked the tongue but didn’t overwhelm the other flavours. The dish reminded me of some of the food I sampled in Taiwan, and whilst I can’t claim to be an expert on authenticity, I though this dish was pretty close to the target.

Black Sesame Paste in Peanut Crumbs

Black Sesame Paste in Peanut Crumbs

Unable to stop there, we tucked into Black Sesame Paste in Peanut Crumbs (£5.00). This consisted of three slightly chewy, glutinous rice cakes, filled with a smooth warm sesame sauce. For those unfamiliar with Asian-style desserts, this undoubtedly sounds a little strange but it is really worth trying for its mild sweetness and subtle flavours.

Our enjoyment of our dining experience was only diminished by the unreliable service. Some waiters and waitresses were very attentive and helpful in describing the particulars of dishes, yet others seemed to deliberately ignore us or only spoke limited English. Due to this, my main was missing in action for 45 minutes despite my frequent requests.

Whilst the service could be improved and some dishes fell short of expectations, the overall food quality could not be denied. Royal China isn’t China, but it deserves recognition for some royally good meat dishes and some sauces that will make you want to lick your plate clean in a very un-royal manner indeed.

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I also went on another visit and I tried:

Pan Fried Stuffed Eggplant with Minced Shrimp and Black Bean Sauce (£10.20)

Sautéed Beef with Ginger and Spring Onion (£8.80)

Both of these were phenomenal and highly recommended. Particularly the aubergine. A bit different and totally worth trying!

Royal China 3.5 /5 

Food 4/5
Value 4/5
Atmosphere 3/5
Service 2.5/5

Websitehttp://clients.iciclesolutions.com.hk/royal_china/baker_street.html
Where: Royal China, 24-26 Baker Street, London W1U 7AB
When: Mon – Thurs 12pm – 11pm; Fri & Sat: 12pm – 11.30pm; Sun11am – 10pm